The Open Circle Community of Mindful Living is a unique sangha in Sligo, Ireland dedicated to studying and following the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.
In 2007, in the sitting room of a home in Sligo, Ireland, a small group of mindfulness practitioners formed what was then a nameless sangha. When the sangha moved to a public space in 2009 it became the Open Circle Community of Mindful Living. The name reflects the sangha’s wish to be a welcoming space in which people can stay or simply visit from time to time.
The sangha represents the fruition of seeds planted by Thich Nhat Hanh. He and monastics from Plum Village first visited Ireland in 1996 and then again in 2012. (The latter event, which included about 60 monastics, was the largest Buddhist event ever held in Ireland.) The Open Circle sangha is a continuation of the practice introduced almost 25 years ago.
One of at least 15 active sanghas in Ireland, over the years the sangha of 20 to 30 members has given birth to at least three other sanghas nearby. Its success is due, in large part, to the active participation and support of many experienced sangha members and facilitators. The sangha’s founders emphasize that it is now a communal effort, the result of the work of many people. Indeed, Open Circle occasionally invites teachers from other Buddhist traditions to lead meetings and conduct workshops to support and enrich the sangha’s practice.
The Open Circle sangha meets every Monday evening for guided, silent, and walking meditation. The sangha also occasionally includes music, circle dance, yoga, and song and has even hosted a mindful pottery evening and an evening of “laughter yoga.” People with some experience can attend at any time; persons new to mindfulness meditation should visit the sangha on the first Monday of the month for orientation.
On second Mondays, interested members gather an hour early for a recitation of the Mindfulness Trainings, and once or twice a month, some of the members gather early to practice qigong, a Chinese system of physical exercise and breathing control related to tai chi. Additionally, the sangha regularly organizes walks and hikes and hosts one major social event, usually a dinner, each year.
Martin Whalen, one of the circle’s organizers, describes the Open Circle Community of Mindful Living as, “Very much a Plum Village sangha – but with a local, Irish flavour. There are a million ways to have a sangha,” he says. “For us a true sangha develops with that local flavour.”
In the case of Open Circle, the local flavour includes dance and other forms of artistic expression.
The Open Circle Community of Mindful Living has hosted several visits from the monastics of Plum Village and the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB), another institution founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, resulting in mindfulness evenings for at least 280 people, sangha visits, and a children’s event. The events have always been full, and, as the organizers emphasize, they have nourished virtually everyone who attended.
The sangha has also provided workshops for students, residents of a nursing home, a group of people with physical disabilities, and a number of church groups. Moreover, it has now initiated a program for youth age 16-17 to introduce them to mindful practices. Martin says, “For me, seeing the transformation that takes place in new members is one of the most rewarding parts of belonging to this sangha.”
Practicing the Five Awareness ~ from the Plum Village tradition
The Open Circle Sangha holds a special place in Martin Whalen’s heart. “On the morning of January 13, 2015, shortly after same sex marriage was recognised in Ireland,” he recounts, “my husband and I sealed our civil partnership. In the evening we came to the sangha to celebrate and share our joy. It was a beautiful occasion, which we shared with sangha friends from as far away as Cork and Carlow. My husband is Polish; his name is Thomasz. Because we are culturally so different, reading the Five Awarenesses of Thich Nhat Hanh before the sangha had special meaning. For us, it was a commitment to truly learn to know one another.”
We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children and their children have of us. We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children and their children We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love. We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust and love can help us change and grow.
The Open Circle Community of Mindful Living in Sligo has moved to Zoom, and we now meet every second week instead of weekly. We engage in all the mindfulness practices and have added live music, poetry sharing, and the sharing of inspired readings. Between twelve and fourteen people from our local sangha participate. There has been deep sharing of joy, as well as vulnerability, pain, and grief.
At the same time, we have maintained and strengthened our friendships. Some sangha members bake, and we often find cakes and cookies on our doorstep. In addition, our WhatsApp groups have seen a flourishing of poetry, music, and photography. Some members of the Sligo sangha have also practiced qigong via Zoom a few times, and as we move towards easing of the lockdown, we are anticipating sangha walks and picnics (with appropriate social distancing and recommended precautions).
Additionally, some members of the Sligo sangha have started a national and international Zoom sangha that meets on Wednesday and Sunday. Sunday, the emphasis is reading and sharing the Five Mindfulness Trainings; Wednesday is a regular gathering of the sangha. People have joined from all over Ireland, and gradually, from around the world.
Lastly, the Sligo sangha, the Flowing Togetherness Sangha, and Mindfulness Ireland have helped fund and organise dharma talks with monastic and lay dharma teachers that reach a world-wide audience. (See the sangha directory for contact information.)
About the Sangha
In non-pandemic times, the Open Circle Community of Mindful Living meets weekly on Monday, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. On weeks with bank holidays the sangha meets on Tuesday evenings. Currently, meetings are held at St. Michaels Family Life Centre, Church Hill, Sligo; for directions, interested persons should contact Martin Whelan, 083 1064879, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information about the Open Circle Community of Mindful Living and other sanghas in Ireland is available from Mindfulness Ireland, a network of people and sanghas in Ireland who practice in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.